1892 Then and Now

Dateline:January 3, 2021

Here's some speculation about gravitational lensing and glimpses into our past.
Events of 1892 as recorded by the Pittsburg Dispatch.
This Ferris Wheel from the Chicago World Fair links to the Cyclopaedia Preface.
This Ferris Wheel from the Chicago World Fair links to the Cyclopaedia list of events for 1892.
A look ahead to 2000 from 1892.
Religion is out of fashion, and we don't much remember Charles Spurgeon anymore, but he was an abolitionist, so maybe we should.
This picture of Hawaiian Queen Kapi olani, links to a timeline of Hawaiian history. Appletons' expected quick annexation of the islands by the U.S. but it took 5 more years.
Here's what you'll learn in school about the Homestead Strike of 1892.
Appletons' gives us the party platorms for 1892.
Paul Jackson tells us about the 1892 Cholera crisis.
Tesla had much to do with the Chicago Exposition. Notice the informed comments.
This image from the Columbian Expo links to a popup window about it.
To Appletons' editors, Columbus and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago were the highlights of 1892. The image links to an online copy of their 1892 Cyclopaedia. (Takes a moment to load)

Ancient Galaxies sent photons our way through gravity lenses and cosmic dust. Our tangled calculations imagine them as they were when they set out.

The year 1892 reaches us through the lens of history. We strain to conjure its image when the present moment surged through it.

Memories about the year are sparse and secondhand. It was an election year. We'll remember Grover Cleveland as the only president elected to two, non-sequential terms, and, yes, that was 1892.

It was also 400 years after Columbus reached America, and we may remember something about the Homestead Strike, the Dalton Gang, and the Pledge of Allegiance. They get into modern summaries of 1892. We probably remember Chicago's Columbian Exposition, but present-day summaries stick it in 1893, not 1892.

The Internet offers several easily found lists of 1892 events.

Slide Show: 1892 Popular Culture

But what did the 1892-ites find important, and do our perspectives diverge? To that question the Internet offers, "Appletons' Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1892." It records the century-old scholarly take on 1892. Old newspapers give us the Every Man thinking.

Click to Enlarge.

Listing events, then and now, misses things. For example, Buffalo Bill was arguably the most famous American in 1892. He'd made highly successful tours of Europe and Britain, met the Pope once, and the Queen twice, she was pleased, and brought some Brits back to the states for a rough-riding experience in the Far West. The newspapers were full of Buffalo Bill in 1892, and in 1893 he set up shop in Chicago near the Exposition, but he's not in the lists of important events, then or now. Nor was the planet Vulcan.

Much of the importance of happenings in 1892 has accreted from later events. The following, for example, are prominent in current lists of 1892 events, but went unmentioned in Appleton's (though they're all in the newspapers).

Newspapers saw 1892 more vividly than Appletons'. There was even a citing, and sighting, of the planet Vulcan. Take a trip back.
  • The first basketball game,
  • The beginning of professional football,
  • The first escalator,
  • The founding of GE,
  • The founding of the Sierra Club,
  • The founding of "Vogue" magazine,
  • The first sale of shredded wheat,
  • The founding of Coca Cola,
  • Charles and Frank Duryea's first motor wagon,
  • The arrest of Homer Plessy (of the landmark Plessy vs Ferguson case in which the Supreme Court established the "separate but equal" precedent for segregation of government services),
  • The Lizzie Borden murders.
This picture of the Homestead strike links to a popup compilation of 1892 events from modern sources.

All of these events, along with the births of now famous people, were unremarked by the guardians of 1892's "official think" because they all represented beginnings of things judged important later. They all made the papers, but smart people didn't pay much attention.

Other events in 1892 were mentioned in Appletons' but not with the emphasis, or moral weight, they now hold. The following, for example, were listed, but signaled different stories than now.

  • Ellis Island began operations in 1892 as noted in Appletons' Cyclopaedia, but it was not then the iconic port-of-entry for so many American families. In fact, in 1892 the news about Ellis Island was an investigation, a scandal, of corruption and waste of public money.
  • What we now call the Johnson County War in Wyoming, was then called a "fight between cowboys and rustlers," reflecting the group-think view in 1892 that the ranchers' position was morally superior to that of the small land owners. In modern terms, "Shane" was the bad guy.
  • History recalls the lynching of Ephraim Grizzard in Tennesse, but in the 1892 Cyclopaedia, several lynchings, at multiple locations, were mentioned, although not Grizzard's name. Newspapers mentioned Grizzard and his treatment, but they convey a suspicion he had it coming.
  • The first gasoline powered tractor was built in 1892 by John Froelich, before the word "tractor" existed.
  • Today we recall the denoument of the notorious Dalton Gang by local townspeople in Coffeeville, Kansas. The Cyclopaedia mentions the gunfight in Coffeeville, but not the Daltons, whose historicity came later. Newspapers foretold the Daltons' current notoriety.
  • Today we recall the election of Grover Cleveland to his second, non-consecutive term as president. In 1892 the presidential election was reviewed in depth, but the rarity of non-consecutive terms was not established, and went unremarked by the Cyclopaedia's scholars.
  • The invention of the pneumatic tire was mentioned, but, in those pre-automobile days, they were part of the story about bicycles. Newspaper ads linked cycling and pnuematic tires, although they also had a few stories about electric wagons. No mention of Charles and Frank Duryea and their motor wagon, though, until 1893.

Our modern memories of 1892 include things unremarkable at the time. How about the other way around? What did the Cyclopaedia think noteworthy about 1892? Appletons' preface has the answer.

The 1890 Census was to have been a technological and social triumph. Alas. What happened?
The labor strike at Homestead Steel was recognized in 1892 as an important event, and even more so today. Current accounts (see link) take a different tone than those in Appletons' (see Events in left column).

"The great topic of the year," was, "The World's Columbian Exposition," now popularly called the Chicago World's fair. It isn't even mentioned in current 1892 summaries because it opened in 1893. But the heavy lifting came in 1892, and tapped the energies of state and federal governments; a strong unifying force.

Next up in Appletons' preface is the 1890 census. In 1892 it was remembered as the most scientific census ever taken, involving Hollerith machines and novel methods of analysis. Appleton's marvelled at the additional information published in 1892. The 1890 census is now famous for being a great gaping hole in our national records. It was damaged by two different fires, the most serious in 1921, neglected for a decade and finally destroyed by bureaucratic indifference (see the story nearby).

The USS Texas was built in 1892. The link is to the condition of the Navy at the beginning of 1892.

Building the modern Navy was mentioned next, consistent with today's history, although there was some distance yet to go. Smokeless powder was adopted, but just for calibers of 6 inches and under. Nickel steel armor was also adopted on most ships.

Economic development was stong, but America was about to enter the panic of 1893, days after Grover Cleveland was inaugurated. It probably wasn't his fault. As with 1929, the causes of the 1893 panic are more obscured than revealed by the subsequent scholarship. At the time there was a feeling the railroads had overextended, and scuttled the great reformer's economy, but railroad demand was linked to agriculture which also declined. The economy is a multivariate complex system, and as we've more recently realized, it defies interpretation by smoothly changing equations. It makes sudden swerves at unexpected trigger points.

Appletons' speculated next on the quick annexation of Hawaii. It didn't happen right away, but five years later. Sugar production and the power strokes of intrested parties put it in America's orbit.

Slide Show: Science and Heady Stuff.

Our association with Canada was mentioned, and things were complicated. Among southern neighbors, Venezuela is singled out because of the 1892 revolution, and England's regional ambitions. Today 1892 is seen as just another year of crisis in nearly unending Venezuelan crises.

Appleton's spent several pages on American foreign policy, mostly treaties on Seal Hunting, a topic little mentioned in recollectons of 19th century American statecraft.

Progress in the sciences is hailed with articles on Astronomy (giant sun spots), Chemistry (discovery of non-existant element Masrium), Metallurgy (manganin alloy discovered), Meteorology (altitude of clouds), Physiology, and Physics. Science was a champion of public perception in 1892, but its gains are buried in the strata of subsequent progress.

The Chicago Exposition was a major undertaking in 1892, and quite a lot of it remains. The view is from the Ferris Wheel, and the link is to the World's Fair Museum.

In 1892 Einstein (see link under the title banner above) was just finishing at what is now called the Albert Einstein Gymnasium, and he was still thirteen years from reworking the concept of relative motion (1905) that obviated the need for the theoretical "ether", once supposed to pervade space and provide the medium for light waves. Nevertheless, 1892 was five years past the Michelson–Morley experiment (1887) that is now popularly supposed to have put an end to the ether blather by demonstrating the lack of the expected "ether" drag on the speed of light. Surprisingly, Appletons' article on physics provides some incoherent, to modern ears, discussions about how the ether drag is seen, or, perhaps, not seen, but seems unaware of the theory's untenability. Our modern concept of how these theories evolved and devolved, seems largely a myth told by text-book authors, similar to their strange elision of Columbus and the refutation of flat-earth theories.

Here is another take on 1892 from the modern labor movement. Everything except the pledge of allegiance to the flag was included in Appletons'.

There is a short survey of new books, American, British, and Continental, along with literary analyses of famous authors deceased during the year. Modern history of 1892 mentions now popular publications from the year, and, surprisingly, they appear in Appletons' lists.

The major religions in America are discussed to a length well beyond the interest of current historical summaries. We learn about recently discovered clay tablets containing various biblical stories and fragments.

Thomas Brackett Reed declared people present in Congress even if they didn't answer roll. It was a big deal.

Congressional action is extolled next, but little Congress did that year gains current notice. Appletons' does mention the former Speaker of the House in its "Events of 1892," saying, "The Supreme Court renders decisions affirming the constitutionality of the McKinley tariff, [and] Speaker Reed's method of counting quorum...."

Denying a quorum had long been a minority method of slowing Congressional action. Members knew if they didn't show up the speaker would have them arrested and hauled into chambers. Some countered by sitting at their desks, and refusing to answer roll call. This worked until Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed, in 1890, took the unprecedented action of declaring them present if he could see them. Some objected, and Reed responded, "Does the gentleman from .... wish to dispute that he is present?". In 1892 the "quorum dispute," went before the Supreme Court, and those worthies decided being physically present constituted de jure presence. This is a good moment to recall Churchill's comment on Democracy, the worst form of government etcetera, etcetera.

The Johnson County War gets a mention in Appletons' as Rangers versus Rustlers. The top picture links to an old timers remembrance of the trouble, and the second links to some modern day analysis of similar troubles involving Stuart Granville.

Christopher Columbus, Cholera, Diphtheria, sugar, pipe lines, and discussions of thirty-seven American cities are next mentioned. Cholera warranted a lengthy article in Appletons', but nothing of much consequence was recorded. They did note Robert Koch's work, though, and that was the most important thing, historically, to occur on the subject in 1892. He isolated Vibrio cholerae as the infectious agent, and furthered the germ theory of infectious disease. The disease provided days of sensational headlines and political bickering, but caused few deaths in America.

Petroleum in pre-automobile 1892 was mostly used as lubricant and heating oil. Pipe lines had been under development since the late 1860s, a response to the primitive transportation methods. It was even considered feasible, though not yet economical, to transport pulverized coal through them.

The famous deceased for the year come next with special mention of Tennyson, Whittier, "the most distinctively American of our poets," and Whitman, "the most peculiar of all poets." Caroline Scott Harrison, "mistress of the White House," is mentioned, along with Charles Spurgeon, "the most popular of preachers."

The authors mentioned in 1892 did not include Jack McCullough who published a science fiction novel called, "Golf in the Year 2000." You can peruse it nearby, and will probably agree with his exclusion by Appletons'. Nevertheless, few agree with their assessment of Whittier and Whitman these days.

Joel Chandler Harris published the last of his Uncle Remus stories, and he makes both the "then" and "now" lists, though with mostly embarrassment these days. Mark Twain's book of short stories, "Merry Tales," gets a mention at the time, but not in most subsequent summaries. Twain's experimental novel, "The American Claimant," is mentioned in modern summaries, but was unnoticed by the Cyclopaedia.

Whittier gets a long biography in the 1892 account, but nowadays he's popularly remembered as one of the authors featured in the 1897 card game, "Authors," and as an active abolitionist and women's rights advocate.

Whitman also merited a lengthy biography by the 1892 chroniclers, but they didn't anticipate his burgeoning influence in American literature. Acolytes from Ezra Pound to Lawrence Ferlinghetti have cited him as mentor and muse.

Striking workers shooting, using a canon and fireworks left over from July 4th celebrations, at the Pinkerton barges. Picture links to story in Zinn Edcuation Project.

Now let's consider the thing about 1892 that is completely unfair to its denizens, but the thing we first wonder about in harking back that far. There is no awareness, not even a hint, that they were at the beginning of a technological explosion. There were signs, in the inventions of that year, but even the futuristic attempts like "Golf in the Year 2000," failed to see the implications of accelerating adaptations of machines. In the next seven years personalized transportation and communication, viz. autos, telephones and radios, changed everything, did it quickly, and surprised everyone.

Henry Adams was a deep thinker who left some wise counsel about the seven years after 1892.

The sense of revolution dawned in the last year of the nineteenth century among the truly deep thinkers. One of these, Henry Adams, grandson of John Q., and great-grandson of the founding Adams, attended both the Columbian Exposition in 1893, and the 1900 Paris Exposition. In his wonderful "The Education of Henry Adams," see nearby (Chapter XXI), he

"began to feel the forty-foot dynamos as a moral force."

A moral force! Moral! He follows with this remarkable bit of nearly unhinged prose in describing what had transpired between 1893 and 1900.

"In these seven years man had translated himself into a new universe which had no common scale of measurement with the old. He had entered a supersensual world, in which he could measure nothing except by chance collisions of movements imperceptible to his senses, perhaps even imperceptible to his instruments, but perceptible to each other, and so to some known ray at the end of the scale."

A little later Adams warns us,

" No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous…."

That sums it up. Our vision of past, present and future is trapped in language, or trapped by language, and we forever struggle to make it say more than it really does. Time before its time doesn't happen, but then we forget what really happened.

An engineering feat in 1892 was the building of the Pecos River Viaduct, to lop about 800 miles off the railroad transiting west from New Orleans.
The Hyde Park Historical Society tells us about the Chicago Ferris Wheel. It was planned in 1892, built in 1893.
Buffalo Bill in 1892, UK edition.
Here's how the election turned out. The party platforms were in Appletons' (see pop up in left column)


Preface to Appletons' 1892 Cyclopaedia


Important events cited in Appletons' 1892 Cyclopaedia


Events of 1892 now considered important

according to History-Page.com and
Dr. Campbell of Washington State University
  • Katipunan: the Revolutionary Philippine Brotherhood is established, contributing to the fall of the Spanish Empire in Asia. (7 July 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' of 1892.
  • Opening ceremonies for the World's Columbian Exposition are held in Chicago, though because construction was behind schedule, the exposition did not open until May 1, 1893. (21 October 1892)
  • Appletons' referred to this ceremony as a "dedication, not an opening ceremony. The dedication was grand, involving Vice President Morton standing in for Harrison whose wife was ill, and a paraded attended by 250,000 people.
  • Charles Duryea claims to have driven the first automobile in the United States, in Springfield, Massachusetts. (19 April 1892)
  • Appleton's doesn't mention Duryea or automobiles.
  • Chicago 'L' (commuter rail system) begins operation (6 June 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • James Naismith publishes the rules of basketball. (15 January 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • Premiere performance of The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (18. December 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • Former Governor General Lord Stanley pledged to donate a silver challenge cup, later named after him, as an award for the best hockey team in Canada; originally presented to amateur champions, the Stanley Cup has been awarded to the top pro team since 1910, and since 1926, only to National Hockey League teams. (18 March 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • First issue of Vogue is published (17 December 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada is devastated in the Great Fire of 1892. (8 July 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • Dadabhai Naoroji is elected as the first Indian Member of Parliament in Britain. (6 July 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • The Limelight Department, one of the world's first film studios, is officially established in Melbourne, Australia. (11 June 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • William "Pudge" Heffelfinger becomes the first professional American football player on record, participating in his first paid game for the Allegheny Athletic Association. (12 November 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • The Pledge of Allegiance is first recited. (8 September 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • Ellis Island opens to begin processing immigrants into the United States. (1 January 1892)
  • Benjamin Harrison became the first President of the United States to attend a baseball game. (7 June 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • The first night game for American football takes place in a contest between Wyoming Seminary and Mansfield State Normal. (28 September 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • Thomas Edison receives a patent for a two-way telegraph. (9 August 1892)
  • Appletons' had abundant news about telegraph line construction in 1892, but no mention of this.
  • In San Francisco, California, John Muir organizes the Sierra Club. (28 May 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • The New Orleans general strike begins, uniting black and white American trade unionists in a successful four-day general strike action for the first time. (8 November 1892)
  • Appletons' cited the New Orleans strike in the list of important events, with no mention of a black/white alliance. They judged the strike a failure.
  • Liverpool Football Club is founded. (15 March 1892)
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.

    ...And from Dr. Campbell...

  • July. Homestead (Pennsylvania) steelworkers strike; after the strikers  battle with Pinkerton detectives, Governor Pattison calls in the militia. The strikers call off their strike in November.
  • April-July. Strike by workers in silver mines in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
  • Democrat and former president Grover Cleveland is elected over opponent Benjamin Harrison, with Populist candidate James B. Weaver coming in as a strong third. 
  • According to the Almanac of American History, on 24 March 1883 "Telephone service is put into operation between Chicago and New York." The Library of Congress, however, puts the date at 1892 and includes this picture of Alexander Graham Bell at the opening of the line between the two cities. 
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • Death of Whitman (b. 1819)
  • Frances E. W. Harper, Iola Leroy, the most popular work by an African-American woman writer of the 19th century.
  • Not mentioned in Appletons' list of events or elsewhere.
  • Death of Rose Terry Cooke (b. 1827)
  • Mary Hallock Foote, The Chosen Valley
  • William Dean Howells, The Quality of Mercy
  • Grace King, Tales of a Time and Place
  • Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus and His Friends



This image of the Court of Honor by Moonlight links to the Project Gutenberg edition of "Picturesque World's Fair," 1894.

The Columbian Exposition was conceived as part of the anniversary celebration of Columbus' famous voyages that began in 1492. Columbus has since become universally controversial, with a vast array of accusations, confessions and apologies from people now over five centuries removed from the man's adventures. At the time his fan club was universal among the smart set, and most of the non-indigenous population. Whatever the current verdict on Columbus the man, it's fair to say the celebration in his name was impressive.

Of all the exhibits on display in Chicago in 1893 (not 1892 because getting things organized was more difficult than anticipated…is that a familiar story?) the most popular by far, and the most remembered, was the Ferris wheel. It was a 250 foot, steel behemoth that challenged the engineering expertise of the time. Two steam engines of 2000 HP each, one on constant standby in case the primary failed, were installed to spin the thing. The boilers were located over 700 feet away, for the obvious reason that boilers were dangerous and sometimes blew up. How many lives would have been spared by that separation is speculative, but the distance was probably great enough to prevent the wheel from being destroyed by the blast. Passenger capacity was 2160, so getting those boilers away from them was a good idea.

The construction of the Ferris wheel was a marvel. It's safe and trouble-free operation was equally marvelous, and unexpected. But we, in our time, almost 128 years later, can marvel at ourselves, and our diversely informed opinions about it.

Someone recently posted a Youtube video on the fabled Ferris wheel. The video itself is a short, superficial encounter with Wikipedia, but the comments, oh the comments, they are of a piece with our time.

  • Commenter 1: I find it very difficult to believe that this thing was constructed at the time they are claiming, by the people who claimed ownership of it. I would expect the world's first Ferris wheel to be a small, clunky, primitive, and possibly not very safe affair that could hold two to four people in each car. This one is obviously the end result of many, many decades, perhaps centuries, of experimentation, of trial and error, and of gradually making the wheel mechanisms larger and larger. It is NOT someone's very first attempt, not by a long shot. Imagine if the very first automobile ever built was one of these(link to picture of new car) instead of one of these(link to picture of old car). You would say there were a few steps missing along the way, no? So why do we believe the narrative when it comes to this huge wheel? Who manufactured the parts? Where was the factory located? How many workers put it together? How were the materials supplied? Where are the images and newspaper articles showing and describing its construction over a long period of time? Where are the images of the ground being prepared to house this immensely heavy construction? How long did that part, alone, take? We have almost no information about this thing. It was, and still is, the biggest Ferris wheel ever constructed, with each car the size of a small mobile trailer home, yet we know nothing about it. Isn't that a bit suspicious?
  • Commenter 2: Do some research. There is countless information about this wheel. It was the first of such size.
  • Commenter 3, disregarding commenter 2: Very well said!..very good questions???...none of which will be answered!..it was destroyed bc they wanted to keep technology a secret another few years to seem like they just discovered it and to give it to us in bits and pieces....yeah right....that's a huge ferris wheel...wow!
  • Commenter 4: Lotta bad info out there...Must use the power of sensibility and reason The whole story behind this Ferris wheel and the Chicago Worlds fair is a complete lie .
  • Commenter 5: The Ferris Wheel Was A Great Success . Why Tear The Dam Thing Down After A Few Uses ????
  • Commenter6: Same reason they tore down all the buildings that we supposedly built for the worlds fair. They claim this yes. Those buildings were therenlong , long before the worlds fair...It all had to be destroyed as has our real past. Those who built it re not here , we inherited all of it from an erased civilization...very recently at that all history has been rewritten.
  • Commenter 7: It was too costly to disassemble and transport anywhere. It's novelty had been lost. They tried to sell it but no takers. Too much to invest on the front.

You can't make this stuff up. The human brain generates quantum theory and Beethoven's Fifth, and noise–level stuff like the above. Whether it's ignorance or apathy, it's great fun, like John Quincy Adams' mole people. It's true! I read it in Smithsonian!

Below, find more picture stories about this apparently mythical (or alien built) structure, plus some other Expo memories.

This is the hollow axle for the giant Ferris wheel, ready to begin construction. It links to the Chicago Museum offering on the Ferris' creation.
The Ferris wheel captured the imagination and has never let go. Here's another retrospective on the short-lived spectacle.
The Library of Congress has a nice collection of vintage images, including a bird's eye view of the entire exposition.
Without doubt, the Ferris wheel is the most remembered expo article.
We never tire of learning more about that danged Ferris wheel.
But there was more to the fair than Mr. Ferris' wheel.

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